Japanese Udon

Udon are noodles made of wheat flour that are frequently eaten with soup stock and have been enjoyed for ages in Japan. Depending on the region, the way it is made, as well as the cooking technique and toppings may vary, but the noodles themselves have a very simple taste to them.

The numerous variations of udon make this noodle dish very enjoyable. Udon can be found across Japan on the menu at specialty udon restaurants (udon-ya).

Highlights

  • When udon was first introduced to Japan, it was made in the shape of a dango rice cake that was slightly flattened. The udon that is widely eaten now, was invented during the Edo period.
  • The flavor of the broth and toppings vary from region to region.
  • Udon is widely available at restaurants across Japan and prepared in various hot and cold dishes.
  • The most common way to serve udon, are udon noodles served in a hot savory broth.
  • A regular udon dish at an average restaurant typically costs between 500 and 1000 yen.

Udon is Popular in Japan

Udon is widely available at restaurants across Japan. Udon noodles are made from wheat flour, salt and water, and are thick and chewy in texture when prepared correctly. The most common way to prepare them is as a hot noodle soup,  with various kinds of meat,  and vegetable garnishes placed on top.

Other ways of serving udon include: cold on a zaru tray with tsuyu dipping sauce and other garnishes, hot as part of a nabe hot pot, or in a yaki udon stir fry. There are also certain udon dishes that are considered specialties in different parts of Japan.

Popular Udon Dishes

Udon is a very basic dish that can be eaten in many forms, please refer to the following to differentiate between the various types of udon:

Hot Udon

First, we will begin with the hot noodle varieties of udon, which can be enjoyed all year round.

Kake Udon

This type of udon is served in a bowl with hot soup and is called kake udon. In the Kanto region, including Tokyo, if the udon is served with any toppings aside from condiments (such as scallions), it will not be referred to as kake udon.

In western Japan (except Kagawa) this dish is called "su udon" and contains some sort of toppings such as tororo (grated yam) or thinly sliced kamaboko fish cakes.

Kamaage Udon

Kamaage udon refers to freshly boiled noodles that are served without running them through cold water, and are eaten by either dipping them in tsuyu or by pouring soy sauce over them.

Tempura Udon

Any type of udon with tempura (such as shrimp or squid) or kakiage (tempura made with mixed vegetables) is called "tempura udon". There are also certain regions where tempura udon is topped with satsuma-age fish cakes.

Cold Udon

Cold udon are udon noodles that have been chilled after being cooked and are served cold.

Zaru Udon

Boiled udon that is cooled in cold water and served in a basket is called zaru udon. The most standard way of eating it is with the dipping sauce tsuyu.

Salad Udon

On top of cold udon, fresh vegetables, egg, tuna, meat or other ingredients are added and eaten with a salad dressing.

Udon Characteristics

Udon can be eaten at home, in family restaurants, or udon specialty shops and is considered to be one of the most widely eaten Japanese foods in Japan.

History

Udon is said to have originated in ancient China. When it was first introduced in Japan, udon was believed to have been made in the shape of a dango rice cake that was slightly flattened. Records say that the current elongated shape of the udon that is eaten with soy sauce and soup is said to have been invented during the Edo period.

Noodles

Udon is made using flour that has been kneaded, rolled out and cut into noodle shape. You can typically find udon sold in stores either dried, like pasta, or as raw noodles that can be cooked instantly. Even though you might have tried udon in your country, it is recommended to try udon in Japan because the taste will be different.

Soups

Other than clear broth (soup) that’s usually found in a hot udon dish, there is a choice of curry soup too! Curry udon is a very popular dish in Japan and comes in numerous forms. It is made by mixing  curry powder into the hot broth or by pouring pre-made curry over the top of the noodles.

Toppings

Different types of condiments are used as a toppings for udon, but most shops carry scallions, shredded nori seaweed and spicy chili peppers (ichimi and shichimi type). Depending on the store, ginger, sesame, agedama (fried tempura crumbs) are also provided.

When first trying the noodles, you should try them without any toppings, then add the scallions and chili pepper powder until you find the taste that suits you.

Regional Varieties of Udon Dishes

With many udon lovers in Japan, there are different ways of eating udon in the different areas. Here are some of the famous types of regional udon: 

Sanuki Udon (Kagawa Prefecture)

Kagawa prefecture is known to have the highest udon consumption in Japan. As a way of promoting the area, Kagawa refers to itself as the "udon prefecture". Udon has become a dish that is part of the food culture of Kagawa.

Ise Udon (Mie Prefecture)

The thick and soft udon that originate in Ise city of Mie prefecture are eaten with a rich, dark broth.

Mizusawa Udon (Gunma Prefecture)

A specialty udon made in Ikaho, Shibukawa city in Gunma. After kneading the dough, it is left to ferment before rolling it out. Through this, the noodles get a strong and chewy texture.

Kishimen (Aichi Prefecture)

Kishimen refers to noodles that are thinner and flatter than standard udon.

Aside from the ones we have mentioned, there are other regional udons such as the Kinchaku Kitsune udon (Nara Prefecture), Tarai Udon (Tokushima Prefecture), Hippari Udon (Yamagata Prefecture) and Himokawa Udon (Gunma Prefecture).

How to Eat Udon

Depending on the type of udon, the way it is served and eaten is different as well. Here is some insight on how to eat hot, cold and Zaru Udon:

Hot Udon

As you lift the noodles up with your chopsticks, you may lift the bowl to drink the soup, however, a large spoon is usually provided in many shops, so it is your preference.

Cold Udon

When eating cold udon, mix the broth, toppings, and udon well, then season with chili pepper, sesame and other seasonings to adjust to your liking.

Zaru Udon

You may eat the noodles by dipping them in a tsuyu that comes on the side. It is best to taste the simple flavors of the tsuyu and noodles first. Then you can add condiments to adjust the taste you want.

Dining Etiquette

The biggest part of Japanese dining etiquette involves the use of chopsticks. If you want to drink the soup, don’t use a spoon, instead, drink it from the bowl. When eating the noodles, slurp away; in Japan it is considered rude not to slurp.

Udon Restaurants 

You can find udon noodles at almost any place, aside from family restaurants or udon noodle shops. However, for those who wish to select from a variety of udon, we recommend visiting an udon specialty shop. This is also recommended for those who wish to indulge in the true flavor of udon. Specialty shops usually knead the noodle dough, cut and cook it on the spot to make sure that everything is fresh.

Depending on the shop, servers may not take your order at the table. There are some shops that require you to take the bowl, line up and bring it to the counter. These types of shops will allow you to select sides while you are in line. There are also shops where you can purchase tickets for your order from a machine.

The prices for udon vary according to the shop and according to the topping you have selected. Low-cost udon chains provide a bowl for about 300-600 yen. At udon specialty shops, it can range from 600-1000 yen. At luxury shops, it can even go up to 1000-2000 yen.

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